Continuing Government cuts to local authorities, plus the added pressure of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, mean that Bedford Borough Council must save £10.9million in the 2021/22 financial year.
The Council’s Executive will meet tonight (Wednesday) to discuss the proposed budget for the coming year and how the Council will continue to deliver vital services for local people against a backdrop of continued financial challenges.
Over the last decade, government funding to local councils has reduced by 38%.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen services placed under unprecedented pressure as the Council supports and cares for the most vulnerable through extremely difficult times.
The Borough says that savings are targeted at the way it operates, including the use of new technology and streamlined ways of working, making savings within directorates and increasing income generation, so that vital frontline services are protected.
Protecting care for the elderly, bin collections and road safety
The proposed Budget 2021/22 sets out how the Council plans to save £10.9million in one year while continuing to deliver vital, day-to-day services that local people rely on.
This includes social care for the elderly or vulnerable, bin collections, and keeping our roads safe and well-maintained.
With an increasingly elderly population and people with more complex needs that must be supported, Adults Services continues to represent the largest proportion of the Council’s budget.
Just over 40% of the Council’s proposed total 2021/22 Net Budget of £121million is dedicated to Adults Services.
Council Tax increase
To help ensure that these services can be delivered, the Budget proposals include applying the government’s Adult Social Care precept of 1.75% to Council Tax this year.
This is alongside a proposed core Council Tax increase of 1.99%.
Together the proposals would mean an increase of less than £5 a month over the year for an average Band D property, or a total increase of £58.59 for the year.
This meeting of the Executive will also be considering the Council’s Capital Programme, including investment in the town centre, providing emergency accommodation for the homeless, expanding schools and road and pavement improvements.
This is different to the revenue Budget, as it covers one-off investment in schemes and projects rather than ongoing spend to provide services.
Cllr Michael Headley, Portfolio Holder for Finance described the past year as being among the most challenging times for the Council.
He said that the pandemic had not only placed pressure on the council’s services, but also made it even more important for them to provide support for vulnerable members of the community.
“We are now faced with making over £10million of savings in just one financial year,” he said.
“This proposed Budget sets out how we plan to do that, by becoming more efficient and making savings where we can, while continuing to protect much-needed services for local people.
“We are also making sure that we continue investing in our Borough for the future with new school classrooms, improving our roads and pavements and supporting the town centre.”
‘Heroic’ council workers and volunteers, but jargon hides reality of the detail of cuts
Bedford Trade Union Council praised the council workers and volunteers who have ‘heroically kept going’ as Covid-19 put an additional strain on services.
“Ten years of Austerity have already seriously weakened services provided by Bedford Borough Council (BBC),” said Graham Tranquada
“This is no time to merely provide the minimum legal requirement of service and the BBC jargon used to describe the cuts hide the reality of detail.
“Most BBC Councillors have no idea how these cuts will impact in practise and i suspect the BBC workforce have not been provided with details.
“Services are not even going to stand still, but get worse, so I urge Bedford people to contact their Borough Councillors and ask them what their solutions are to this crisis.”
No significant impact on frontline Council services
Cllr Graeme Coombes of the Conservative Group, said they remained hopeful that the budget will not have a significant impact on the delivery of the Council’s frontline servives.
He said: “We recognise the extremely tough and challenging financial circumstances in which this Council budget is being put forward, especially in light of the additional financial pressures brought by COVID which has had a massive impact on Council finances across the country.
“We welcome the fact that the Government has provided significant financial assistance to Bedford Borough, to try and mitigate some of the worst effects of the pandemic.”
‘Senior members of staff are overpaid’
Green Party councillors, Lucy Bywater and Ben Foley also sympathised with the difficult position the Council was in, following “persistent central Government underfunding and Government mishandling of Covid19 resulting in damage to the economy for much longer than needed, which increases the number of people claiming council tax reductions.”
In a statement they said: “We believe that if there are reductions to the council’s pay bill, it should be by recognising that senior members of council staff are overpaid – it is very hard to see the justification for staff to be paid so much more than the Prime Minister.”
Scrap free car parking
The statement from the Green Party also suggested that the Council should not subsidise motorists by providing free car parking when Adult Services budgets are being cut.
“We believe the cuts to Adults Services budgets are excessive, and are forcing ever more disabled people to do without care that they need.
“In doing so, the council is letting down some of the most vulnerable members of our society while pandering to less important desires of those who are much more able to bear extra costs.”
If agreed by Executive on Wednesday 20 January, these reports will go to a meeting of the Bedford Borough Full Council on Wednesday 3 February.